- It is time for all hands to be deployed to check pollution of the electoral process
The build-up to the July 14 Ekiti State governorship election had given enough warming that much was at stake. The two major political parties fielding candidates – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) whose candidate is the incumbent deputy governor, Professor Kolapo Olusola-Eleka, and the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) candidate who is a former governor of the state, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, left no one in doubt that they were desperate to secure victory at the polls. There were apprehensions that money would play a significant role in deciding the winner and that violence could be deployed to scuttle the poll.
Contrary to fears that polling could be disrupted and thus render the election inconclusive, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan who served as the Returning Officer declared the result that showed that Dr. Fayemi was a clear winner, even though the votes were close. Most observers, domestic and foreign, have commended the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for conducting the elections professionally, in accordance with global standards. Unlike previous elections that were marred by logistics challenges, the polling units opened to voters on schedule and materials were not in short supply. Even in the stations where the card readers malfunctioned, they were swiftly replaced such that the flow was sustained. It is also commendable that counting and collation, save some isolated cases, did not pose any serious challenge. The officials were said to have been fair to all.
This is not to say that the result is not being contested in some quarters, particularly the PDP. This will always happen. But the aggrieved know what to do. However, it is to the credit of all the stakeholders that the election was relatively peaceful, contrary to fears days before.
If this is an indication of development in INEC that had promised to deliver credible polls, we could expect that the 2019 general election would be an improvement on the 2015 exercise. We, however, hope that funds would be made available early enough for the commission to prepare for the election, realising that elections would hold simultaneously in the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory.
One area that calls for concern is the rate at which the card readers failed. In Ekiti State, the problem could be easily resolved because surplus machines had been deployed from other states. Would we have had enough if it were the general elections? Besides, why did the machines malfunction so badly when in neighbouring Ghana they worked so well? Could something funny have interfered with the procurement machinery?
It is shameful that the security forces had to swoop on the state to separate the gladiators and prevent a general breakdown of law and order. The Nigeria Police Force alone deployed 30,000 personnel, while the Nigerian Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the military and the Department of State Services (DSS) were everywhere, too. While they succeeded in ensuring that malpractices such as snatching of ballot boxes and result sheet alterations were rare, purchase of votes was taken to a dizzying height.
At almost every polling unit, party agents jostled for votes by inducing voters. This is indication that the democratic system is still at the primitive level. It is difficult to say, therefore, that the electorate freely exercised their franchise. The authorities must note that secrecy of the ballot process is an important feature of the elections. We therefore call on them to put measures in place to discourage the despicable conduct in the forthcoming Osun State governorship election and subsequent polls.
It is 19 years since the military rolled the tanks away and returned power to civilian leaders; yet there is no evidence that there has been real development. We needed to bare the teeth of the security forces, disrupt the normal lives of the average citizens who should have gone out to fend for their families or do some other things, and perhaps scared some away from the streets, thus resulting in a mere 50 per cent voter turnout. This is the time for all, voters, the civil society, the media and leaders of the small parties to support INEC and the security forces in getting it right. In the electoral process, money is a pollutant and should not be allowed to replace the free will of the electorate. The appropriate point to start is to ensure that some of those who were used as merchants on Election Day are tried to serve as a deterrent to others.